Fighting COVID with nutrition and healthy living: Expert advice from Virginia Tech nutritionist

covid-19 nutrition

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One mistake that people can make when it comes to staying safe from COVID-19 is thinking there is nothing beyond social isolation to defend themselves against infection, according to a Virginia Tech expert in nutrition.

“We talk about masks, distancing, and washing your hands, but rarely do we talk about healthy eating as a way to strengthen your immune function,” said Carlie Rafie. “We need to be certain our messaging includes something more like – social distance AND let’s eat well.”

Rafie is a registered dietician with expertise in nutrition and dietetics, focused on health education to Virginia residents through Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“When we started social isolation, people who didn’t already have quality access to food, to promote healthy eating and immune health, found themselves even more at risk,” said Rafie. “For many it can be a challenge to access the kinds of healthy foods we’re talking about.”

Rafie stresses the importance of eating foods that are high in vitamins and minerals including B6, B12, folate, C and D, zinc and selenium, all of which have intimate relationships and function within the immune system.

“The biggest mistake that people are making is thinking there is nothing they can do beyond social isolation to defend themselves against infection. Strengthen your immune system by exercising regularly and do something daily that will reduce your stress,” she said. “And by all means, eat a healthy diet every single day.”

Rafie recommends the following healthy eating habits:

  • Eat 5-9 portions of fruits and vegetables, either fresh, frozen or canned. They’re filled with vitamin B and C and there is very strong evidence that higher consumption equals lower infection rates and chronic disease.
  • A plant based diet, including whole grains, whole foods, nuts and seeds.
  • A daily dose of dairy or dairy alternative fortified with vitamin D.
  • Eat more white meats and meat substitutes, rather than red meat.  Even better, eat more fish, such as salmon, trout and tuna.
  • Avoid packaged and processed food. They can be high in sugar and salt, and easily cause weight gain.

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